Undercover cameras reveal scare tactics of AC duct cleaners

Customers say they were scared into buying

SUN CITY CENTER, Fla. - One company advertises air duct cleaning for $49, but some customers claim they were scared into paying a hundred times more. 

Complaints filed with local and state agencies, as well as the Better Business Bureau, led I-Team reporter Jackie Callaway to go undercover and find out what was really going on.

We asked state certified mold assessor Randy Kizer to inspect the duct work, and submitted air samples for lab testing to gage the air quality inside our test home.

Kizer's company, Florida Indoor Air Quality, has been testing air samples since 1992.  We rigged Janie Hadley's house with cameras in both the living area and garage after test results came back negative for mold.

Why?  Because of what Ruby Lewis and others say happened to them.

Lewis, 86, is one of more than 50 people who have contacted state and local agencies about Environmental Cleaning and Restoration.  More than a few, like Lewis, say it started with an ad for a $49 duct cleaning.

But the Lewises and more than 20 others claim the technician diagnosed their homes with health-threatening mold.

Janie Hadley, a Sun City Center senior, agreed to assist with our investigation.  We asked her to hire three different companies to inspect her duct work.

Two of them, Environmental Cleaning and Restoration in Venice, and Winton's Air Conditioning in Tampa, have 50 or more complaints with the BBB alone.  Neither is a member.

Our cameras rolled when Winton's technician arrived.  He spent about 7 minutes looking over her vents, the air handler and duct work in the attic before telling Hadley she was breathing in fiberglass due to holes in her ducts.

I heard it all from behind a bathroom door.

Winton's technician told the homeowner  four times that she was breathing in fiberglass, but remember the lab tests? They detected no measurable particles in the air.

Hadley says the tech pushed her to spend $5,100 on new duct work.  He promised it would cut her power bill in half.  I asked Winton's owner for an explanation and he responded in writing.

"He admitted he, (the employee) was wrong and was suspended for two days, so in light of Ms. Hadley's complaint, we are issuing her a formal apology and a refund in the amount of $46."

Our camera shows the Environmental Cleaning and Restoration technician open the air return and then insert a test kit into a single vent.  I listened as the worker made repeated claims about the toxic black mold Janie was breathing in.  He offered to clean her ducts for $765.

Four messages left at the company's Venice office went unreturned.  We asked Jeffrey Hunt about the company's practices.  State records list Hunt as one of the officers in the company.

Hunt, who we found outside his home, refused to give us any real answers.

Remember we hired three different companies to inspect the ducts?

The third one, Bayonet out of Hudson, gave the system a clean bill of health, just as our expert did. The Department of Business and Professional Regulation and the Polk County Sheriff's Office say their investigations are ongoing.

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